June drug bust shows potential pitfalls of citywide surveillance system, defense attorneys say

City officials have touted a growing, centralized video surveillance system as a way to build better cases for prosecutors and catch criminals as technicians monitor live footage. They’ve claimed it is a “complaint based” system that, for the most part, searches for relevant footage only after a complaint has been made or a crime has been committed.

But it appears that the NOPD is also actively using live feeds from the crime cameras to coordinate proactive operations such as drug busts.

About a year after the creation of the Real Time Crime Monitoring Center, surveillance footage is starting to trickle into the Orleans Public Defenders office as it’s submitted as evidence against their clients. One of those clients is Clint Carter.

Carter was arrested in June for trespassing, simple assault, and illegally carrying a weapon (brass knuckles) during a police surveillance operation. The police report says that a “known undercover officer” had been observing Carter throughout the day “due to numerous complaints of drug activity” in the area. It says the undercover officer saw Carter going into an alley, reaching into his underwear, and pulling out an object for a “hand to hand transaction, which is indicative of narcotics sales.”

Laura Bixby, Carter’s public defender, told The Lens that she’s not sure whether an undercover officer was actually on the scene or whether the police were solely relying on crime camera footage. What she does know is that one of the city’s crime cameras was pointed right at Carter, and the footage shows exactly what’s described in the incident report, right before three police SUVs roll up to detain and search Carter.

Harney governing board votes to negotiate surrender of school’s charter

Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy’s board of directors voted in a meeting on Monday to give its president the power to negotiate the surrender of the Central City school’s charter to the Orleans Parish School Board. The board revoted Friday to ensure it met the district’s standards.

Board President Rev. Charles Southall III said the board wanted to act in the best interest of its students and work with the school district. The school will not close mid-year because of the decision. Instead, it’s expected that the Orleans Parish school district will take it over when the charter surrender is complete.

Last month, Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. called for the embattled organization’s board to resign and surrender its charter so the district could directly operate the school. He said he would not renew the school’s charter at the end of this year due to its failure to comply with state law and district policies. Then, Lewis went a step further and announced he would seek to revoke Harney’s charter mid-year.

Students will likely continue at the school until May under district control, but it’s unclear what will happen to teachers. They may have to reapply for their jobs.

Behind The Lens episode 10: ‘We’ve been fighting BP for years’

This week on Behind The Lens, video of a drug bust leads to renewed questions about the city’s sprawling surveillance network. The news casts serious doubt on the city’s claim that it’s ever-expanding network of surveillance cameras are a “complaint-based system.” The Lens also takes a trip to Buras, Louisiana to hear from workers who helped clean up after the 2010 BP oil spill and are now suffering from medical problems and mounting debt.

Host and producer Tom Wright speaks with reporter Michael Stein about his story about a June drug bust that one defense attorney says shows the potential pitfalls of city’s surveillance system. She claims the surveillance may have violated her client’s civil rights. A police report claims an undercover officer was on the scene, but that’s not clear.

Wright also ventured to Buras, Louisiana to view “Disappearing Victims,” a documentary featuring people who were left ill after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. We hear from cleanup workers who are still fighting for help to pay for their mounting medical bills.

Reporter Marta Jewson provides an update on Harney Charter School. The Central City charter school’s board voted to surrender its charter to the school district. The district will likely take over for the remainder of the school year.

Behind The Lens is available on Apple Podcasts.

Opinion: How to fight the polarization that’s poisoning our politics and our city: listen to each other’s stories

Rev. William Barnwell encourages readers to share their stories.

“According to Alex Haley, “The most powerful phrase in the English language is, ‘Let me tell you a story.’” Flannery O’Connor used to put it this way, “A people is known not by their statistics or their statements but by the stories they tell.” Michelle Obama blesses storytelling in her new book “Becoming”: “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something you own.”

I like to say: “The most important thing about any one of us is our personal story.””

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...